Stocks remained stuck in a narrow range today, struggling to find a course as persistent worries about higher interest rates and the latest warning about corporate earnings rattled the market.
At 3 p.m., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 11.08 at 10,264.45.
Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 4.83 at 1,277.37, and the Nasdaq composite index gained 1.88 to 2,758.13.
With less than a week before the Federal Reserve's Oct. 5 meeting on interest rates, investors appeared reluctant to buy. Stocks have fallen steeply in recent sessions, leaving the Dow more than 1,000 points, or 9 percent, from its record high of 11,326.04 set on Aug. 25.
"A follow-through from that sharp sell-ff has yet to take hold," said Joseph V. Battipaglia, chief investment strategist at Gruntal & Co. "Ahead of the Fed's meeting, no one is willing to step in."
Gillette fell 3 7/1 6 to 33 9/1 6. The consumer products company said late Tuesday third-quarter sales will be about 1 percent below last year's levels, prompting a number of downgrades from Wall Street analysts.
Avon, the direct seller of cosmetics, tumbled 9 7/8 to 25 1 3/1 6 after saying its fourth-quarter earnings and sales may miss estimates.
While most companies are expected to report strong profit growth in the third quarter, those that have warned Wall Street about their earnings outlook have been harshly punished.
The warnings from Gillette and Avon hurt several other consumer-products companies. Procter & Gamble fell 2 1/2 to 96 7/1 6, and Colgate-Palmolive dropped 3 1/1 6 to 45 1 5/1 6.
IBM fell 2 to 122 1/2 after Merrill Lynch removed the stock from its list of 10 top stock picks, replacing it with Mercury Interactive Corp., a maker of automated software testing programs. Mercury shares rose 3 1/4 to 62.
Oil companies were mostly higher as the price of crude oil futures topped $25 a barrel for the first time since January 1997. Late Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute reported a decline in U.S. crude supplies, the fourth consecutive weekly drop. The report provided the latest evidence that a glut of oil that depressed prices over the past year is ending.
Chevron rose 1 1/1 6 to 88 1 1/1 6, and Exxon rose 1 9/1 6 to 76 1/4 .
Traders said the market was not affected by a Commerce Department report that showed orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods unexpectedly rose 0.9 percent in August. While that robust demand could suggest that the economy is still booming, the report is not viewed as a crucial piece of data as the Fed weighs its decision on interest rates.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 10-to-9 margin on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Russell 2000 index rose 3.08 to 421.57.